GREEN BAY — Datone Jones certainly isn’t the first player to leave the Green Bay Packers for the rival Minnesota Vikings. And, given the lengthy list of border crossers — Brett Favre, Ryan Longwell and Greg Jennings being the most prominent among the recent defectors — he almost certainly won’t be the last.
Jones also isn’t the first one to leave Titletown and arrive in the Twin Cities with less than sparkling things to say about his former team. Jennings claimed the Packers “brainwash” their players into thinking Green Bay is the place to be; Favre, well, you know that story.
While Jones might not have torched the bridge back to Green Bay in a recent interview with Viking Update, he didn’t paint a very positive picture of how the team dealt with him during his final season.
Jones, a former first-round pick who joined the Vikings on a one-year, $3.75 million deal this spring, claimed the Packers didn’t tell him of their plans to move him from the defensive line to outside linebacker last season and that he left in free agency because he wanted to return to his natural position.
Jones saw spot duty at outside linebacker late in the 2015 season, but he said the Packers coaching staff didn’t alert him to his full-time move to the position. Instead, he found out when coach Mike McCarthy said something about it on television at the annual NFL Meetings in March.
“They didn’t tell me. I found out on NFL Network that they had moved me to outside linebacker,” Jones told Viking Update. “I kind of knew that I would have to make the adjustment or I wasn’t going to be there anymore. I wanted to come into a place where I felt most natural, where I could really showcase my ability, what I could really do. I’m excited the Vikings took a chance on me.”
The Packers’ decision came with Jones entering a contract year after the team declined his fifth-year option as the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Jones played the 2015 season at 298 pounds, was down to about 285 at training camp and said his weight was around 267 for most of last season, when he recorded just one sack but did lead the team in quarterback pressures.
“Mike McCarthy and the rest of the staff wanted me to play outside linebacker. Instead of being selfish, I looked at it as a challenge,” Jones said. “I came back into camp the appropriate weight with the appropriate conditioning. I made sure that, ‘OK, you guys gave me the challenge’ and I made sure I was going to pass it. That’s the type of guy I am. You guys give me a challenge and I’m going to challenge myself to be the best at that challenge and I’m going to come ready.”
The Packers’ thought process in moving Jones was that he gave them a big-bodied run-stuffer on the edge who could also rush the passer. They rotated Jones with starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry as well as veteran pass-rush specialist Julius Peppers.
“By putting him outside, he gives you a big, physical guy that can set the edge in the run game and give you pass rush,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said during training camp last summer. “You can’t get short with those guys outside with the way we rotate.”
The Packers also used Jones as an inside, hand-down interior rusher in some passing situations last season, but the Vikings worked Jones exclusively at defensive tackle throughout the offseason this year. Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said Jones could see time at end but he’ll be primarily a three-technique tackle with uncertainty there following Sharrif Floyd’s injury problems.
“I never really got comfortable (in Green Bay) at one position and then I thought it was strange because I was second on the defensive line in sacks over the last four years and out of nowhere my position changes. I was just like, ‘Wow!’ ” said Jones, who left the Packers having recorded 9½ sacks in 66 career games (including playoffs) in four years.
“But I was very thankful for what the coaches did for me there. They gave me a chance to play in the NFL and to showcase my abilities. I could never be upset, but now I’m happy to have a coach like Andre Patterson to come in and teach me.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the team has put Jones exclusively at tackle for now to get him acclimated to a new scheme but didn’t rule out shifting him to end at some point.
“When a guy is coming to a new system and a new thing, you want to kind of leave him alone,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got lots of time in training camp to figure that all out. But we’re trying to teach him the techniques and the things that we do at the three-technique.
“I don’t think it would be good to (move him), now he’s playing a different technique because he’s a defensive end or something like that. We’re just trying to get him comfortable with the things that we teach.”